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January 26, 2006

'We Must All Be Prepared
to Torture'


Let's get to it!

by Fred Branfman

"We must all be prepared to torture."
- Charles Krauthammer, "The Truth About Torture," The Weekly Standard, Dec. 5, 2005

Note: All quotes in bold below are from Krauthammer's piece.

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald announced in a press conference Wednesday that, swayed by the powerful arguments of an article in The Weekly Standard, he is prepared to torture Vice President Cheney and presidential adviser Karl Rove for information that is "urgently needed" to save American lives.

"I have determined that American lives can be saved by ending the ongoing stonewalling by these two suspects, who have clearly orchestrated a campaign that endangers U.S. intelligence agents' lives," Fitzgerald said. "The Weekly Standard has opened my eyes to the fact that my being previously unprepared to torture is deeply immoral, given the American lives that I believe can be saved by the urgently needed information Cheney and Rove possess."

Fitzgerald stressed that he is not legally required to explain his decision.

"As an agent of the executive branch, I am no more legally required to provide my rationale for torturing these suspects than is President Bush. Following the ancient doctrine that 'might makes right,' Mr. Bush has taken it upon himself to torture anyone he wishes, without explanation, on the simple assertion that he believes it will save American lives. Mr. Bush has also made it clear that he intends to keep torturing if he wishes to, and does not feel bound by the agreement he reached with Sen. McCain banning the practice.

"Since executive power has been delegated to me to investigate the leak of a CIA agent's name, I have as much legal authority to torture in this case as does the president. I want to assure the public that, unlike the president, I will not torture the innocent. But I'm sure you can understand that I can say nothing else at this point, given the sensitive nature of the information involved."

Fitzgerald stressed that the vice president could surely have no moral objection to being tortured to save American lives.

"Mr. Cheney's stated belief in the executive's moral right to torture anyone it wants solely on its own discretion, which I agree with, clearly gives me the delegated moral right to torture him. While he may disagree with how I am applying this principle to his case, he cannot fault its morality."

Fitzgerald said he was strongly influenced by a Dec. 5 article by Charles Krauthammer, who is widely admired for the sophistication and subtlety of his reasoning. As the New York Times reported on Dec. 11, "[I]n the torture debate, he [Krauthammer] has arguably articulated the administration's stance better than President Bush or his cabinet secretaries."

According to Fitzgerald, "Mr. Krauthammer is one of our most distinguished moral philosophers, a man known for his compassion and refined sensibilities, as are his editor William Kristol and publisher Rupert Murdoch. It would be easy for men of such moral stature, enjoying the comforts of their well-appointed homes, to avoid risking demagogic attacks from those who would call them immoral and thuggish. Where would our society be, however, if such refined gentlemen did not have the courage to call for others to undertake the unpleasant but necessary tasks that democracy sometimes requires? It is not as if they would actually torture anyone themselves."

Fitzgerald endorsed Mr. Krauthammer's indictment of Sen. John McCain, agreeing that "the moral preening and the phony arguments can stop now."

"I am sure that everyone else is as tired as Mr. Krauthammer is of Sen. McCain, who just can't seem to move beyond having been tortured himself decades before 9/11 changed everything, including the obsolete notion that our country should obey international law and the basic rules of civilized behavior. It should be obvious to every American that Sen. McCain is hopelessly subjective on this issue.

"Only people like Messrs. Krauthammer, Kristol, and Murdoch who in 2002 received a 'humanitarian of the year' award, appropriately presented by Henry Kissinger, perhaps the greatest humanitarian of our age have the necessary objectivity both to promote torture and to make the refined distinctions necessary for the rest of us to be able to sleep at night.

"I particularly applaud the fact, for example, that Mr. Krauthammer did not issue a blanket endorsement of torture, but rather offered such sensitive moral distinctions as his belief that 'the level of inhumanity of the measures used (moral honesty is essential here we would be using measures that are by definition inhumane) would be proportional to the need and value of the information.'

"Mr. Krauthammer's 'moral honesty' in approving the 'level of inhumanity' applied to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was particularly instructive: 'There is waterboarding, a terrifying and deeply shocking torture technique in which the prisoner has his face exposed to water in a way that gives the feeling of drowning. According to CIA sources cited by ABC News, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed "was able to last between two and 2 1/2 minutes before begging to confess."'

"This technique was also used with great efficiency by the Gestapo in World War II. I salute Mr. Krauthammer's support for this practice, which has long been one of the quickest ways to gain information. Since even the tough Mr. Mohammed was 'begging to confess' after just two or three minutes, I doubt that Mr. Cheney or Mr. Rove will last more than a few seconds before pleading for mercy."

Fitzgerald addressed the argument that torture usually does not work.

"I appreciate Mr. Krauthammer's typically brilliant observation that the mere fact that torture usually does not work is no reason to forbid it. As he writes, 'Is one to believe that in the entire history of human warfare, no combatant has ever received useful information by the use of pressure, torture, or any other kind of inhuman treatment? It may indeed be true that torture is not a reliable tool. But that is very different from saying that it is never useful.'

"Exactly. The very fact that torture might work in one case provides a clear rationale for its use in hundreds of other cases where it does not work, so long as the executive believes that it might conceivably save American lives. The fact that it will make us hated around the world and will incite our enemies to ever greater acts of violence against us is a small price to pay."

Fitzgerald also raised an issue that Krauthammer did not directly address: the recent assertion by Sen. Lindsey Graham on Meet the Press that a U.S. endorsement of torture would make it far more likely that American citizens will be tortured in the future.

"Some may ask why we should support torture when it increases the probability that Americans will be tortured, and when it may not even work, as Mr. Krauthammer acknowledges. I can only agree with his implication that the increased torture of American citizens is a small price to pay for the possibility, however slight, that torture might once in a long while produce information that could conceivably save some American lives someplace."

Fitzgerald added, "I am also touched by Mr. Krauthammer's moving observation that 'such a determination would not be made with an untroubled conscience' and that 'elected leaders have the obligation to tolerate their own sleepless nights.' I am deeply moved by this evidence of Mr. Krauthammer's sensitive nature. And I want to him to know that I do not believe he need endure any sleepless nights himself, because, unlike the elected officials he would have inflict torture in our names, he is only promoting and rationalizing torture.

"I also want to assure Mr. Krauthammer and his employers that I agree with his wise and compassionate observations that torture should be 'reserved for highly specialized agents who are experts and experienced in interrogation, and who are known not to abuse it for the satisfaction of a kind of sick sadomasochism Lynndie England and her cohorts indulged in at Abu Ghraib' and that we need to say 'We do not do that. We should not do that. Ever.'

"Any torture administered by my office will indeed be conducted only by 'highly specialized agents' who have perfected the art of causing maximum pain after years of study of Gestapo techniques and experience in torture chambers around the globe. And I will go even further than Mr. Krauthammer recommends. In addition to excluding 'sick sadomasochists,' there will be no place for sick sadists or sick masochists in my shop whatever Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Goss may continue to do in U.S. and allied torture chambers under their control."

The press conference ended on a somber note.

"Finally, as Mr. Krauthammer so movingly writes, 'we must all be prepared to torture' when doing so can save American lives.

"Let me repeat: 'We must all be prepared to torture.'

"The 'moral honesty' of this statement! Not even Hitler and Stalin dared call upon the entire citizenry to personally and publicly endorse torture. We owe a debt to Messrs. Krauthammer, Kristol, and Murdoch for moving beyond mere 'moral preening' to this stark revelation of their inner souls and psyches. And we are inspired by this call to our highest human possibility. If Americans will only listen to Mr. Krauthammer's wise counsel, torture will become the new standard by which America is known around the world. And the world will understand that when our opponents torture it is evil, but when we torture it is only in self-defense against their evil.

"And may we all reflect on the deeper implications of The Weekly Standard's call to arms. It is not only that 'we must all be prepared to torture' in the future. Since our leaders are torturing right now, we must all acknowledge our shared responsibility for it at the present time. Given the daily revelations of U.S. torture around the globe, we cannot, like the Germans, claim that we do not know. We cannot turn our heads and pretend that we do not see. As only the perceptive Mr. Krauthammer so rightly praised by the NY Times for articulating the case for torture better than the Bush administration has had the courage to suggest, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have already made torturers of us all."

 

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Fred Branfman is a writer and longtime activist who directed the Indochina Resource Center during the war in Indochina. Visit his Web site.

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